New Pathways and Ambiguous Terms
Those of you in the sensor world are deeply involved with the low-level nuances and intricacies of your devices. How accurate, how linear, how to connect, how to read data, how to fuse data… – there’s so much to think about if you put your mind to it.
Of course, the people you’re doing this for – users of phones and tablets and medical devices and industrial sensors – couldn’t care less about that stuff. They want to sleep soundly knowing that, by hook or by crook, those sensors are detecting their assigned phenomena accurately, and the system is correctly reading those data and munging them into whatever form is necessary to provide a simple, meaningful result at the application level.
And, in between you and that user lies, among other things, the operating system (OS). And OSes are now wise to the ways of sensors, and they’re laying down some rules of the road.
Why Have 1 When 3 Will Do?
With new technologies come new standards. And resonant power transmission technology, which we covered recently, is no different. As a quick review, this is a way to charge phones and other devices without plugging in and without the kind of placement precision required by older inductive approaches such as those used by toothbrushes.
Why might standards matter? All of the spokespeople for the standards work underway – and, as we’ll see shortly, there’s lots of such work in progress – describe a vision of ubiquitous charging stations in malls and airports and coffee shops and anywhere people might want to charge their electronic devices. If we’re going to have all of these chargers charging lots of different devices from lots of different vendors, then we need a standard so that they all work well together.
Bogus Tech Support and a Statistical Rorschach Test
I finally got the call.
My phone rang, and the caller at the other end said, “This is Microsoft Technical Support. We’ve detected—”. I cut him off right there. “No, you’re not. You’re a %&@# scammer and should be in jail,” and hung up on him. (I sometimes miss old telephones where you could slam down the receiver.)
I’d heard about this scam before, where someone claims to be from Microsoft (it’s never Dell or Lenovo or Samsung) offering to help you clean up “infections” they’ve somehow detected on your computer. All you have to do is visit their helpful website and download their remote diagnostic tool… You can guess what mischief transpires from there.
The Internet of Things is the Driver
Imagine if our phones and gadgets all had wires for communication. Yeah… almost kills their usefulness. Now imagine a future sensor-saturated world, with all of them communicating by wire. Yup… we’d pretty much be crawling through a cat’s-cradle tangle to get anywhere.
We think of wireless as convenient, and it is. Why, with wireless mouse and keyboard, the rat’s nest behind my desk has shrunk. And then came a wireless printer connection. And, somewhere along the way, wireless USB was supposed to happen, although those wires still seem to predominate. But sometime in the future, with added wireless display transfers, then pretty much the only cables necessary would be for power. Pretty sweet.
One part server-on-chip, two parts green energy - with a heavy sprinkling of superhero powers - this week's Fish Fry takes on advances in connectivity. We investigate the University of Texas at Arlington's unique collaboration with WinMEMS to create a new way to harness the wind to power your cellphone. Next, we chat with Mike Major (AppliedMicro) about how AppliedMicro is connecting the data center dots with some faster lines and finally, I’ll tell you how you might be able to get yourself some real superhero powers - using ultrasound.
Distinguishing You from Your Phone
The Holidays can be a challenging time in the US. Particularly for people that don’t like shopping, this is not a favorite time of year. Count a big portion of the male population in that group of hapless souls that gird up their courage and wade into the miasma that is the local mall.
So here you sit, in your car in the mall parking lot, watching the steady stream of people going in empty-handed, coming out loaded with booty. That’s your competition. If they buy more than you do, you lose. And if you don’t hurry, they’re going to buy the cool stuff – and you lose some more.
Combo Windows + Android Systems Have Lackluster Appeal
This week, people flocking to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) will be treated to their first look at a new kind of PC that dual-boots Windows 8 and Android. Imagine, a machine that runs Windows one minute and Android the next.
Sounds like the worst of both worlds, if you ask me. A triumph of marketing over engineering. The coppery taste of desperation has replaced product innovation.
Nobody’s saying anything official yet, so there’s a bit of speculation baked into all this, but the concept is pretty straightforward. Take a Windows 8 computer (please), and load an x86 port of Android onto it. Let the user toggle back and forth between the two operating systems by tapping the screen, making a swipe gesture, or using the keyboard – whatever. Voila! You’ve got both Windows and Android at your fingertips, with the vast software libraries of both at your command.
Not Just Software vs. Hardware
We recently took a look at Lattice’s approach to sensor hubs. We’ve seen many other ways of implementing sensor hubs in the past, but all of those were software-based; it was just a question of where the software executes. Lattice’s approach is hardware, and that raises all kinds of new questions.
The biggest red flag that it raises for me is that moving a task from software to hardware in the design phase is not trivial. (Trying to keep it with the software guys, using tools that automatically generate hardware is, for the most part, a quixotic goal that seems largely to have been lovingly placed back on the shelf.) In my quest to figure this part out, I found that there’s more to the sensor hub world than all-software and all-hardware. And that makes the design question even more complex.
Indoor Location System Knows Where Your Treasure is Buried
As first-world problems go, losing your car keys is a bad one. Losing a whole warehouse full of shippable merchandise is probably worse, but warehouses typically have lots of people standing around watching over the goods. But what do you do when you’ve lost your car keys somewhere inside the warehouse? Needle, meet haystack. Not so easy now, huh? What are you going to do?
If you’ve planned ahead, you’d have little badges on your keys – badges stuffed with technology designed by DecaWave. The Dublin, Ireland startup has created an itty-bitty little chip it calls the ScenSor that’s designed to solve this, and much larger, problems.
Engaging More Senses
I did a lot of typing in college. Even as an engineering student, I still had to take humanities courses, which meant writing papers. And, as cash was in short supply, I found that I could leverage this skill by typing papers for others.
I had an electric typewriter (no, I’m not that old) and the special keys for Spanish, French, and German, making me versatile. And so I got pretty good at blind touch-typing. In other words, I would simply look at the paper to be typed and proceed without glancing back at the results. In fact, I found that I could get into a zone where my fingers would be blazing away with no mistakes – that is, until I realized that and started thinking, “Wow, this is going really well,” at which point it started falling apart as my brain started to try to micromanage my fingers (like the centipede trying to think through how it can walk).